Goddess of the Sea

Goddess of the Sea

From the autumn 2016 trip to Vietnam:

Waking up on Thursday, October 6 – what would’ve been my dad’s 77th birthday – we packed up our bags, ate a great breakfast, and bade farewell to Madame An & Jean at the Hoang Trinh Hotel in Hoi An.

Today’s trip would be completely unclear on what we were seeing and doing en route to Hue. We simply paid Mr. Trung the balance of what we owed on arriving in Hue after they showed us random sites between the two cities.

Junebug rode with Mr. Trung and I rode with Mr. Trong’s nephew. Mr. Trong had already scheduled other customers before we’d met up with them, however, we saw them for part of the ride up to Hue.

The first stop of the day was China Beach. It’s currently called Danang Beach, but is historically (and more famously) known as China Beach. It’s about a 20 mile long beach that stretches south from Danang towards Hoi An. The beach is famous as it’s the insertion point of the first American ground troops during the Vietnam War. (I’ve also read that Nam O Beach, 15 kilometers northwest of Danang, was the insertion point, but this is where our drivers said it was. It still doesn’t change the facts of what happened here.)

Apparently, Vietnamese girls and women were waiting on the beach when the first troops arrived. I don’t know how authentic that feeling was or how long it lasted. There are currently quite a few thousand Vietnamese around my age who don’t know who their fathers are. And as Forrest Gump might have uttered, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

What I can tell you, though, is that China Beach – at least the part I saw, which happens to be the closest to downtown Danang – was a very nice beach. It seemed relaxing, clean, and certainly wasn’t crowded, though that was probably due to the time of year and the fact that it wasn’t terribly sunny. Since Danang is growing rapidly, I think this will eventually get more and more crowded. There are also massive five star resorts opening all along the beach between here and Hoi An. (Goodbye, serenity…)

After a few minutes – about five, literally – at China Beach, we continued our way north along the coast for a few minutes to Monkey Mountain. The U.S. troops named it Monkey Mountain, though I haven’t quite figured out why. The Vietnamese name is Nui Son Tra.

It’s on the Son Tra Peninsula which juts out into the South China Sea just north of downtown Danang. The highlights of coming to Monkey Mountain, really, are the views. If conditions cooperate, you get stunning panoramic views of downtown Danang to the south or Hai Van Pass to the north across the Bay of Danang.

In addition to the views, there is a Buddhist temple and a very large (and recently built) statue of Buddha. This is the Linh Ung temple. The views from here, too, are quite wonderful, and the temple and statue are also quite nice.

During the war, the mountain was strategic and the U.S. troops used it as a communication center with radio domes. Currently, those still exist and are used by the Vietnamese military, so access to the entire mountain is restricted. In fact, it wasn’t until somewhat recently that you could come up here at all.

After an hour or so wandering around the temple, we hopped back on the bikes and made our way across one of the bridges that spans the Bay of Danang and skirted the southern and western shore of the bay.

The first stop west of the bridge was very quick: a temple-boat named Van Vinh. We only stopped here for the quirkiness of it, and also for a few panoramic shots of the bay and Danang.

Ten minutes farther down the road was our next very quick stop. This is where we met up with Mr. Trong, bringing our group up to a total of four. We were next to Coconut Island, which isn’t a place you come for visiting currently. This is a historical site. People live here, but during the war, according to Mr. Trong, Coconut Island was essentially a brothel. From what I’ve been able to find online, there isn’t much about this island specifically, but you can actually find some of the U.S. military propaganda videos on YouTube regarding how Vietnamese women were viewed/treated/used during the war. (I can say it’s nothing graphic, but nonetheless depressing.)

After our few minutes here, we hopped back on our bikes and started our trek up Hai Van Pass. There are actually tunnels that cut through the mountain shortening the trip drastically both in terms of time and distance, but (I don’t think) motorcycles aren’t allowed in the tunnels and, besides, what fun would that be?

The ride up to the top of Hai Van (Sea Cloud) Pass was up a rather curvy road. The name was, at least on this day, very apropos. The views of the bay were delightful and, as we ascended, we found ourselves smack in the middle of a cloud.

Historically, this pass (around 400 meters high, I believe, with the nearby peak reaching to almost 1200 meters) marked the boundary between Vietnam to the north and the Champa kingdom to the south.

Meteorologically, it marks the buffer zone between the colder northern climate in winter with its winds from China and the mild, tropical weather to the south. That being said, I don’t think it gets terribly cold in the north during winter – certainly not to people who are used to a temperate climate. This is, after all, the tropics…

After poking our way around the summit in the fog, we were pretty much done sightseeing for the day. We had a quick stop going down the northern slope of the pass for a panoramic view of Lang Co Beach, which is an island popular with Vietnamese (but not so much for foreigners). There simply aren’t many amenities here geared towards westerners. At any rate, we didn’t actually stop on the island; just on the mountain above to get a view of it.

The last place we stopped before arriving in Hue was one I was a bit excited about, especially after Phu Quoc. Mr. Trung mentioned “waterfall,” but I have to say this was the biggest disappointment of the entire trip. It wasn’t far out of the way, fortunately, but also completely unnecessary. It’s really more of a swimming hole next to a very small waterfall that’s aesthetically destroyed by tourism. Spray point, signs, trash, cheap ramshackle buildings, etc. However, if you were to come to swim, I suppose it’s ok. Needless to say, I could’ve done without this.

When we left Disappointment Falls, we headed nonstop to Hue. Well…almost nonstop. A really heavy downpour forced us suddenly off the road to whip out some plastic raingear before getting back on the road to enjoy our afternoon shower. We finally arrived at the Huenino Hotel next to the Perfume River in downtown Hue where, just like at Hoang Trinh, the service was exceptional.

We decided to spend the evening relaxing (that is, not doing any shooting), and took the hotelier’s advice on where to eat good, local Hue food. This was easily one of the best meals I had during the entire trip and, honestly, almost everywhere I had Vietnamese food was wonderful. So the evening photo shoot consisted only of food, food, and more food.

On a completely full and happy stomach, we returned to the hotel and arranged for another private car the following day to chauffeur us around Hue. I was looking forward to that photo shoot.

As always, thanks for dropping by and viewing these pictures. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments and I’ll answer as I have time.

Posted by Neil Noland on 2016-11-07 12:27:37

Tagged: , Vietnam , Danang , Van Vinh

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